Marketing and the Scientific Method

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Silicon Valley entrepreneurship guru Steve Blank likes to say that a startup is “essentially an organization built to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.” It’s an elegant definition, and we’d propose a corollary about brand strategy:

Your positioning statement is essentially a hypothesis meant to be validated or revised as you learn from interactions with customers and prospects.

Marketers in tech startups often work side-by-side with engineers and scientists, and engineers and scientists understand the scientific method. So why not introduce your brand strategy as a hypothesis, and enlist the help of the entire organization—especially R&D and Sales—to test it?

A strong brand position lives at the intersection of two things:

  • What you do best and
  • What customers want most.

Too many positioning statements (and marketing strategies) emphasize the former at the expense of the latter. The former is teaching; it’s what you talk about in order to explain what you can do for people. The latter, however, is learning; it’s what happens once you stop talking. Learning is listening and observing—and it’s essential to the discovery of that sweet spot, where what you do best and what customers want most coincide.

Ask yourself: What new information have we picked up in the last six months? What new insights have we gleaned that might inform the way we evolve our offering(s)? If it’s been a while since you’ve immersed yourself in the world of your target market, get out of the building and spend some time with prospects and customers, so you can see firsthand what they face and what they need on a daily basis. What do they really care about? What are they frustrated by? How do they measure their own success? And what, in an ideal world, would absolutely delight them?

Ask open-ended questions. Observe behaviors. Do they corroborate or challenge your assumptions? Either way, it’s good news. If your assumptions prove correct, you can invest effort and resources with increased confidence. If your assumptions prove incorrect or incomplete, you can change course and minimize time wasted pursuing a fruitless path.

We’re not suggesting you do this every six months. While you might A/B test campaign headlines every few months, a sound positioning statement should last you at least 18 months. Like any worthy hypothesis, it should be the result of thorough investigation and careful consideration to begin with. But it’s not meant to last forever. Just as a computer operating system starts with a prototype, then goes through beta testing, and eventually evolves over the years, new versions replacing old, a positioning statement is a work-in-progress, a hypothesis meant to be tested every time you interact with a prospect or customer. Be open to the possibility of an upgrade when conditions are right.

By thinking about your brand position—indeed, your entire marketing strategy—as a carefully crafted draft, you will be more open to market realities that refuse to conform to assumptions. Observe. Adjust. Engage. Repeat.


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